Tonight, I want to finish up, and bring together some discussion on knowledge and responsibility, weaving in a bit about leadership.
I think that we often seek knowledge in an attempt to solidify a position we’ve already taken, rather than to discover what is true. We’re told that truth is objective, not subjective, and what’s true for one, is, ipso facto, true for all. Because people who we presume to be smarter than ourselves tell us this, we accept it.
It’s very easy for a population who has bought into the idea of universal truth, to be led into other positions. When we encounter differing viewpoints, we assume that someone must be right, and someone must be wrong. Rare are those who will admit the possibility that more than one viewpoint can be correct.
I was blessed by my teachers. My teacher of Wicca didn’t start with the position that “I’m right, and here are the facts that you’ll need to accept”. Rather, one early lesson was the writing of a creed. Long before I started this podcast, I shared that creed, and I’ll do so again tonight, in just a few minutes.
First, we need to know what a creed is. In Latin, you’ll see the word Credo. The Nicene Crede, used by Catholics begins:
Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipoténtem, factórem cæli et terræ, visibílium ómnium et invisibílium;”
This, translated to English means “I believe in one God, Father almighty, creator of the heavens and the earth, and all that is seen and unseen”
The first word, Credo, is our word creed, and means simply “I Believe”. So, a creed is simply a statement of what we believe.
When many of us come to paganism, we discover that we can all be priests and priestesses. For some of us, that goes to our heads. We’ll find people who’ve read a number of books, and perhaps studied for a year or two. They might start their own groups, and feel called to a leadership position. Some might, just that quickly decide that they’re ready to become authors, ready to give workshops, to represent their form of paganism to the public.
What’s not happened in a short period of time though, is something called deep spiritual development. It’s relatively easy to adopt a set of facts and to convince yourself that they are true. That’s part of the reason that various churches have their own creeds. It builds unity. The problem with someone else’s creed is that we are using what they believe as a starting point.
When we write our own creed, we are starting in the most basic way, with what WE believe. Ask yourself some questions:
So, here is a creed that I wrote some years ago.
That in the beginning was the Great Spirit, who dwelt above the abyss.
Hse found hirself lonely and shewed forth the aspects of the God and Goddess.
The God and Goddess work together, not as opposites, but as parts of a whole.
The God and Goddess stirred the void and brought to being the universe.
And all other heavenly things.
The God and the Goddess chose some planets on which to bring forth life. One of these planets is the Earth. The God and the Goddess planted the seeds of life. They blessed the seeds and caused them to grow. They caused creatures to grow male and female and all that lies between. Man and woman are descendents of the Great Spirit, charged with the care of the Earth.
The Great Spirit
revealed hirself to all peoples on the Earth. Various
names reveal the one Great Spirit: Isis, Osiris, Ishtar, Cerridwen, Cernunnos, Lugh, Brigid, El Shaddai, YHWH, Jesus, Buddah, Artemis, Odin, Kali, Castor and Polux,
To some are given the task of a witch. On them falls the task of propagating the blessings of the Great Spirit. These must dedicate themselves or turn away from the task. Half measures faileth all.
I am a witch, blessed by the Great Spirit, daughter of the Goddess and son of the God.
I grow between the worlds.
I exist between the sexes.
I tarry in spirit between the elements.
The Center is my path.
So, what does all this mean?
The first part stresses origins. It is natural to ask “what came before?” We ask that from the moment we are able to perceive time. The first part of my creed simply states that I believe that there is something outside of our linear experience of time, and I call that “Great Spirit”. I don’t believe that this “being” or energy exists as a gendered being, and early on, I use the terms “hse” and “hir” (which I borrow from Marge Piercy in her book “Woman on the Edge of Time”) which express personhood without tying it to a gender.
In the next section I express my belief that God and Goddess are “of the Great Spirit”, or are aspects of that being. I believe in the creative energy of masculine and feminine elements, and I express that by having the God and Goddess as creative forces together.
I also believe that all religions exhibit some truth of the Great Spirit, and therefore show ALL Gods and Goddesses as being aspects of that Great Spirit.
I then describe what it means to me to be a witch. I believe that each of us has a purpose for being on this Earth, and that a witch is a person who seeks not only to know what that purpose is, but to execute that purpose. While I accept that anyone can call themselves a witch, and while I dislike the term “true witch”, I honestly believe that to be true to the calling, one must step out and DO SOMETHING. One can act romantically and gain some satisfaction by adopting a name or title, but as James says in the Christian Bible, “Faith without works is dead”. I think this applies to any spiritual path.
Lastly, I describe who I am. I’m transsexual, and find great spiritual significance in being so. As such, while being a daughter of the Goddess, I also know the aspect of being a son of the God. While I at one time hated this aspect of myself, it is a dramatic part of how I came to be me, and I need to embrace that fully.
These are the elements of my personal creed as a person and as a witch. When I encounter something that challenges my idea of what I believe or of who I am, I come back to my creed and decide what it is that needs changing, adoption or rejection. My creed helps me to understand my spiritual path through life. It is a roadmap of where I’ve been, what I believe and where I expect to go.
My creed, what I believe isn’t static, but having it written gives me a starting place, something to examine rationally. When I find something changes, I can question myself as to why.
So, what does this have to do with leadership and
responsibility? In the forecourt of the
Whether we wish it or not, when we take upon ourselves any sort of leadership role, from being a kindergarten teacher to a leader of armies, from coach of a community softball team, to the leader of a church, we have given at least tacit permission for people to put some amount of faith in what we have to say. Often that permission is much more overt.
For pagan leaders, or for leaders in any faith, that trust in our words implies a sort of contract. Those who listen believe us to believe what we’re saying. Yes, there are the unscrupulous. There are those who are out only to sell books. But even these have set themselves up, and on some level, at some time, there will be a settling of accounts.
But for each of us who do take on such a role, a very clear understanding of our own beliefs is necessary and vital. Until we know, deep in our bones, what it is that we do believe, until our questions are answered, are we really in a position in which we can confidently be in such a role?
Right here, right now, as a host of a pagan radio program, I can say that I’m confident in what I believe. It took me a long time to get the courage to start speaking about things of my own faith. Part of that is simply because I feel responsible for my words. I think that’s a good thing.
I’m not telling anyone what to believe. I’m not trying to sell any pagan pathway as better than any other pagan pathway, or as better than any other religious path. But I do know at this point, that if this program ended, that if I suddenly said that I’m no longer pagan, that some people would be confused, or possibly hurt.
I remember last year when Emerald Deepwater was doing her show “Pagan Living”, and she found another path. Some people were confused, and she’s been missed in the pagan podcasting world. Even still, she took the time to explain her decision, and it really wasn’t as dramatic as some others.
But when we who are leaders make a dramatic change like
that, it does affect others. And the point about knowing oneself is to decide,
up front, if we’re solid enough in our belief to take on that sort of
responsibility. As pagans, we don’t have institutions which teach us the
foundations of our faith … these are things we need to experience and learn for
ourselves. We do have one or two seminaries.
So, what I’m advocating is that those who choose to write a book, or start a radio program or podcast or television program, what ever it is, KNOW THYSELF first. Know where you are, know what you believe.
For those who have decided that leadership, beyond that of priestess or priest in your own grove or circle, or as a solitary isn’t for you, this doesn’t mean that you’re absolved of responsibility. Each time we pick up a book or listen to a radio program or podcast, we are responsible for what enters our mind. It’s up to us to remain critical. It’s up to us to examine the words of those who we listen to. This is even doubly important when we choose to put a CD with a guided meditation in our players.
It’s up to us to decide whether the person we’re listening to is actually qualified to speak to the subject about which they are speaking.
Let’s say that we find a book entitled “Everything a Wiccan should know” by Lady Jasmine Starfire Willowhawk. For whatever reason, we’re intrigued … maybe it’s the cover art. How do we know that it’s worth reading, or putting any faith whatever in?
There was a time when we could look at the Bibliography, and just by looking at the titles, we could discern that this particular author, if nothing else, was well-read. Unfortunately, this doesn’t hold water. Just because a book is referenced does not imply that it was read, accepted or taken to heart.
Where do we start? We start with our own creed. We can look at a book, and as reading it, decide for ourselves if it makes any sense, based on our own beliefs. We can look at the writing … is it clear, is the writing style scholarly? Does the author make unsupported grandiose claims?
I guess that what I’m saying in the end, is that leaders, and those who trust them BOTH have responsibility. The person taking a leadership position has the responsibility to be faithful to those they are leading, but this does not relieve anyone who listens to them from their own responsibility. Perhaps if we could all accept our own levels of responsibility, remembering that none of us does, can, or should have absolute authority over anyone but ourselves, then dangerous cults would be less likely to ever gain a foothold.
The trouble is that there will always be SOME people willing to put absolute trust in those who wish to wield it. And when a group of the former meet one of the later, that is the beginning of trouble.
© 2009 Deirdre A.. Hebert